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‘Now or never’: New environment, energy ministers vow to act on climate crisis

Environmental Protection Minister Zandberg says ‘Israel should not be an oil bridge to other countries’; Energy Minister Elharrar to encourage investment in green solutions

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Newly appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (right) with outgoing Minister of Environmental Protection Gila Gamliel (left), during the handover ceremony, held at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Newly appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (right) with outgoing Minister of Environmental Protection Gila Gamliel (left), during the handover ceremony, held at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar both vowed on Tuesday to use their new positions to push for renewable energy sources and to usher Israel into a greener era.

Zandberg, a lawmaker with Meretz, held an official handover ceremony on Tuesday with Gila Gamliel, the Likud MK who until this week served as environmental protection minister.

“The climate crisis is already here. We have a few years left before we reach a point of no return,” said Zandberg. “It is now or never.”

Zandberg said the government has vowed to pass sweeping climate legislation, stating, “We must also stop dependence on fossil fuels, including gas, and set ambitious targets for the transition to renewable energies,” such as at least 40% of Israel’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2030 and a goal of net-zero polluting emissions by 2050.

Zandberg also reiterated the call for something that Gamliel has been pushing for in recent months: the cancellation of a deal to channel Gulf oil through the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, which green groups have warned could cause massive environmental damage.

“The Gulf of Eilat is in real danger because of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, and the State of Israel should not be an oil bridge to other countries,” said Zandberg.

An oil tanker docked at the Europe Asia Pipeline Company’s port, close to the coral reef nature reserve of Eilat in southern Israel. (Society for the Protection of Nature)

Zandberg also said that one of her first initiatives in office will be to “reduce the consumption of plastic and disposable utensils in Israel” in the coming weeks.

“In order to move towards a cleaner world and country, Israel must kick its addiction to plastic and to disposables,” she said.

Meanwhile, Elharrar — who held a handover meeting on Tuesday from former energy minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud party — also stressed green initiatives among her goals for the office.

“The State of Israel today faces many challenges in the political, environmental and security sectors,” said Elharrar. “In every one of them, the Energy Ministry is a significant and central player vital to the country’s ability to function during both emergencies and routine times, while also finding green solutions that will reduce the harm to the environment.”

New Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (center) and former minister Yuval Steinitz (left) at a handover ceremony on June 15, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Elharrar, a member of Yesh Atid, added that she pledges to focus on the areas of the ministry that “affect our children’s ability to live and survive on Earth for the next 70, 100 and 200 years, by promoting renewable energies and investing in green solutions that will allow us to reduce harm to the environment and alleviate the economic burden on households.”

Also on Tuesday, Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov formally took over as tourism minister from Blue and White’s Orit Farkash-Hacohen, who is becoming the science minister.

New Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov at a handover ceremony on June 15, 2021. (Moshe Hermon/Benovich Communications)

“My first task as tourism minister is to build a correct and effective outline for the easing of conditions for tourists to enter Israel,” said Razvozov, “of course, without endangering the citizens of Israel and in cooperation with the professional bodies in the Health Ministry.”

Tourism to Israel has been effectively shut down since March of last year due to COVID-19. The Tourism Ministry has set July 1 as a goal to open up borders to vaccinated tourists from certain countries, but the program has not been fully approved by the government and faces some opposition from the Health Ministry. The plan could also be further delayed by the turnover caused by the installation of the new government.

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